The United States said on Tuesday that it now officially considers American basketball star Brittney Griner, arrested in mid-February in Russia, to be “unjustly detained”and should therefore accelerate efforts to demand his release.
“The State Department has come to the conclusion that the Russian Federation is unjustly detaining American national Brittney Griner”said a spokesman for the American diplomacy. “The US government will continue its efforts to provide appropriate support to Ms. Griner”he added.
Arrested on February 17 in Moscow
As a result of this decision, his case will now be followed directly by President Joe Biden’s emissary for the release of American “hostages” abroad, Roger Carstens, said a State Department official.
The 31-year-old basketball player, who plays for Phoenix Mercury and has won the Euroleague four times with Russian club Ekaterinburg, was arrested on February 17 at an airport near Moscow with “vapers and a liquid with a particular smell” of cannabis oil, according to Russian customs. The one who is considered one of the best players in the world faces up to ten years in prison.
The arrest of this openly lesbian double Olympic gold medalist was not revealed to the general public until March 5, 15 days after her arrest. Meanwhile, Russian forces had invaded Ukraine, triggering an international crisis and significant US sanctions against Moscow.
A pressure tool?
In Washington, some feared from the outset that the player would be used as a tool of pressure in the conflict. But the American authorities initially kept a low profile on his case, without commenting on the legal merits of his arrest.
The United States secured the release by Moscow last week of ex-Marine Trevor Reed, sentenced to nine years in prison in Russia for violence, as part of an exchange for a Russian pilot detained by American justice. The US government also continues to demand the release of another of its nationals, Paul Whelan, sentenced to 16 years in prison for espionage and who claims his innocence.